“Melbourne’s growth comes at a cost” (source: The Age)

On Saturday, The Age ran another article in its series on population growth in Melbourne, highlighting the impact on “housing affordability, urban boundaries, infrastructure and patience” (Crammed: Ten ideas for dealing with Melbourne’s booming population growth).

This time The Age sought “workable solutions” and canvassed “the ideas of some of Melbourne’s leading minds in search of a better way forward”. The result was these “ten ideas for dealing with Melbourne’s booming population growth”:

  1. Densify middle Melbourne
  2. Free up capital funding for schools
  3. Fifty per cent public transport by 2050
  4. More government-built housing
  5. Replace stamp duty with land tax
  6. Direct population to regions
  7. Protect our food bowl
  8. Slow down population growth
  9. Trial tolls on key roads
  10. Downsize and diversify

Although the list is a bit mixed-up (e.g. some are objectives, some actions, some negatives; there are big differences in scope), the underlying ideas are familiar and, other than number 8, are mostly consistent with what I and others propose. They fit well with Infrastructure Victoria’s top three recommended actions i.e. increase densities, implement transport network pricing, build more social housing.

I might look at these separately another time, but the thing that really struck me was the comments on the article made by nominally left-leaning readers of The Age; I felt like I was reading the Herald Sun. Many readers seem to:

  • Think population growth is far and away the main problem
  • Believe high levels of immigration benefit politicians, but not them
  • Have little confidence in the idea that infrastructure and planning can deal effectively with growth
  • Want to keep Melbourne pretty much as it is
  • See slowing population growth down, and/or shifting growth to regional centres, as the answer
  • Have limited understanding of the pro-immigration economic arguments
  • Accept unquestioningly the population projections are an accurate description of the future

The Age poses this question in the video accompanying the article:

The question now being asked is can Melbourne keep up? Or is it time for governments to slow population growth?

If those Fairfax readers who write comments are even roughly representative of general community views, it seems support for the second question is getting stronger. The case for a high level of immigration hasn’t been made or communicated well. Neither has the idea that infrastructure – or government – can deal effectively with the challenges of a rapidly growing city.

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